Good things happen when The Sadies have Gord’s back

by James Brotheridge

cd-gordGord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun
Gord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun
Arts and Crafts
4 out of 5

Gord Downie sits down, pulls a notebook into his lap and opens it. There’s a list on the page, and the top three items are “The Tragically Hip”, “The Country of Miracles” and “The Conquering Sun” with “BAND NAMES” written above all that. The first two are already crossed out — one being his decades-running CanRock institution, the other being the name of his backing band on his 2010 solo record, The Grand Bounce.

He crosses off “The Conquering Sun”, closes the notebook and looks up to smile at The Sadies, who’ve been standing there the whole time.

Maybe it’s just me, but “The Conquering Sun” seems like a particularly Downie-esque turn of phrase.

The frontperson of one of Canada’s greatest rock groups is a unique and instantly recognizable part of whatever he’s involved with, and on Gord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun, he’s complemented by The Sadies, a bunch of Canadian originals in their own right.

The record was written, recorded, produced and performed by Downie, drummer Mike Belitsky, bassist Sean Dean, and singer/guitarist brothers Dallas and Travis Good over several years. If the sessions for the album were spread out, as the info out there suggests, you don’t hear it on the finished record. It all feels and sounds like it’s coming from the same place. The Sadies have backed up Neko Case, Andre Williams, Jon Langford and Greg Keelor in the past, and they always bring their signature blend of country, surf and psychedelic rock to whatever they do. Downie, in contrast, contributes styles familiar to Hip fans, with a dash of the subdued wonder of 2009’s We Are the Same and a bit of his old blues-rock here and there.

It’s in the meeting between the two that greatness happens. Downie’s freewheeling style and the locked-down playing expertise of the Sadies are made for each other, and The Conquering Sun shows how great that collaboration can be.


Joan As Policewoman
The Classic
3.5 out of 5

Joan As Soul Singer. Joan As Doo-Wop Singer. Joan As Reggae Singer. The Classic, Joan As Policewoman’s fifth album, is her most ambitious and diverse offering yet. Instead of the slinky subtlety and precision of her earlier work — notably the laser-sharp I-against-id slow jam “The Magic”, from her 2011 LP The Deep FieldThe Classic wallops listeners over the head with big sounds and big ideas, all the while keeping the listener off-balance with shifting tones and unexpected moves. “Holy City”, the album’s first single, illustrates this brilliantly. It lays down all these big, brassy soul elements over a driving piano riff that keeps building and building, and then breaks down over an almost-vocal breakdown by comedian Reggie Watts that owes as much to free jazz as it does to rap, yet still serves the emotional motif of the song. /Emmet Matheson

cd-mayfieldJessica Lea Mayfield
Make My Head Sing …
3.5 out of 5

As someone whose obsession with music began in the 1990s, it’s weird to be hearing the second iteration of grunge and college rock. Twenty-four-year-old Jessica Lea Mayfield is too young to remember the songs that ruled The Wedge and 120 Minutes back in the Clinton era, but she’s done her homework. The signifiers of ’90s rock are all here: plaintive vocals, gnarly guitars and fuzzed-out bass. There’s even a bit of woozy, noir-ish noodling for the shoegaze crowd.

Mayfield nails the sounds and attitude of the era. But her songwriting (with the exception of “Standing in the Sun” and “I Wanna Love You”) could be tightened up. The greatest bands of the ’90s always had indelible choruses beneath all that noise. Still, it’s a gutsy record from an artist largely known for her country-folk balladry. /Gillian Mahoney

Ninja Tune
3 out of 5

Though it’s no easy feat, Kelis moves from pop star to soul goddess with her latest release, Food, out on British indie label Ninja Tune. I saw Kelis perform at SXSW in Austin this year, backed by an 11-piece band. Her stunning, sexy, live presence translates well on this record, which serves up soul and funk dishes including “Friday Fish Fry” and “Biscuits N’ Gravy”. The record is lengthy by modern standards, and save for a few standout tracks such as the tasty “Jerk Ribs” — catch a theme with the song titles, by the way? — she and producer Dave Sitek (of TV On The Radio) could probably have trimmed the fat. While Kelis now has an eclectic discography worthy of respect, from a mainstream pop perspective — and in the eyes of the drunken spring-breakers who pushed through the crowd when she began to play her big hit live — her 2003 “Milkshake” remains the tastiest thing she’s made to date. /Jeanette Stewart